One of the biggest winners with of 3D printing is expected to be the space exploration industry. The possibility of going up into space and printing off tools and food is something which makes long distance trips without a lot of initial weight onboard seem very possible. 3D printing also makes the production process a lot cheaper and quicker than would otherwise be the case.
One of the first steps in this direction has been taken by NASA, who have just announced that they have managed to successfully print and use a rocket engine part. The part in question was made in order to pass liquid oxygen and hydrogen gas into the combustion chamber of the engine.
This exciting development follows on from the announcement from General Electric that it is going to use 3D printing techniques to produce the fuel nozzles for the jet engines it makes. In case of the NASA work, the space agency has confirmed that the injector part was made by Aerojet Rocketdyne using the selective laser melting technique.
Melting and Fusing With a Laser Beam
This process means using a high power laser beam to melt and then fuse together layers of metallic powder until the right shape is obtained. The part which has been produced in this way is smaller than the one which would be used in real life but it was big enough to be able to test whether it was sturdy and resistant enough to cope with the intense heat and pressure which it would be put under.
The time saving made by using 3D printing in producing this part was 8 months (it took 4 months instead of a year) and the cost reduction was around 70%.